New research shows college students are more stressed than ever before. Here's how you can help your upcoming freshman transition into college life.

By Kristi Pahr
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While you've no doubt spent the last 18 years trying to prepare your kid for the moment she moves out, college life presents teens today with some unique challenges.

In a 2019 study conducted by Barnes & Noble College Insights, researchers surveyed students and parents to better understand college life today. Overall, they found college students are more stressed than ever before due to the current political environment, academic expectations, financial concerns, making friends and more.

But the biggest takeaway: Parents have a major role in helping kids today adjust to college life. So what can you do? Turns out, preparing your teen for challenges they may face goes beyond just teaching them good study habits and warning them of the dangers of drinking.

"Increasingly through high school, parents can be educating their children in self-care and self-management and increasing their independence," says Dr. Gail Saltz, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the NY Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of Medicine. "This ranges from how to pay bills and balance a checking account to doing laundry, shopping, understanding basic first aid, taking care of sexual health, making doctor appointments and managing their own medication if one takes any."

Here are a few words of wisdom to share with your freshman that'll help her navigate her new life.

There's always someone to talk to.

According to the Barnes & Noble College Insights study, while 85% of students who responded to the survey said their school provides resources for mental health/student well-being, only 24% have used these resources. Parents can start to change that trend by encouraging kids to seek counseling on campus.

At the same time, “It’s important to keep in mind: A lot of college mental health facilities are seeing between 15 and 25% of the student body, which doesn’t sound so out of line with what the need might be. Remember, some people are getting support from other places, like from resources at home,” says Victor Schwartz, M.D., Chief Medical Officer of The Jed Foundation and Ron Goldman, co-founder and CEO of Kognito.

Fail to plan, plan to fail.

Living at home, many kids don't get the opportunity to manage their own schedules. Parents are depended on for everything from scheduling doctor's appointments to even waking them up in the mornings for school. To give your kid a leg up and maybe head off some of the anxiety that's so prevalent among freshman, give them the chance to manage their own time. Psychologist Ana Jovanovic suggests that allowing your teens to self-manage can help them build confidence and familiarity when they're responsible for managing their own time.

"Once they're on their own, they'll need to be making their own breakfast in the morning or wake themselves up — so why should you continue to do this for them while they're still here?" says Jovanovic. "They'll need to manage their schedules. Let them plan their social and study time instead of reminding them of what they need to do every day."

Track your budget.

Until now, kids may not have had much exposure to money beyond their allowance or whatever cash their parents fork over. In college, kids will be responsible for managing their own finances, budgeting for expected and unexpected expenses, paying their own bills, and dealing with student loans. Many kids never learn to balance a checkbook, reconcile a bank statement, or create a workable, realistic budget. Setting time aside before they leave home to discuss "grown-up" finances can help your freshman make smart financial decisions and not overspend.

"Talking to kids about how to manage a bank account, pay credit card bills, manage student loan debt, and make everyday budgeting decisions is key to setting them up for success," offers Nerdwallet personal finance expert Kimberly Palmer. "You can also help them use an app like NerdWallet's to track their budget and make smart spending choices or a free budgeting tool like the 50/30/20 budget to help them prioritize.

Your safety is up to you.

One of the hardest parts of the college transition for parents is not being close enough to keep their children safe. It's easy for students to assume their college campus is a safe place and that their fellow students are generally good people. Lindy Schneider, coauthor of College Secrets of Highly Successful People: Keys to Launching a Great Life and the co-founder of AmericasCollegeAdvisors.com, advises parents and children not to depend on the college to keep students safe.

"Colleges do their best to create a safe environment for their students, but you must take responsibility for your own safety," she says. By practicing a few common-sense safety tips, students (and their worried parents) can decrease the likelihood of a negative experience. Give teens the opportunity to familiarize themselves with Uber or other rideshare programs so they have the ability to leave a situation where they may feel uncomfortable. Download a safety app to their phone that allows them to alert the authorities or a trusted friend in case of an emergency.

Dr. Saltz recommends that parents sit down with their teens over the summer to discuss the more unsavory aspects of college life.

"The summer before college is a good time to talk about alcohol and drug use, what you think is a danger and why, as well as letting them know that no matter what happens, you are always available for help. It's important to have a discussion about hazing, binge drinking, watching your drink due to date rape drugs, consent for both boys and girls, dating safety, birth control, etc. Also, make sure your child knows how to contact student health and where to go for medical, sexual or psychological issues."

Do a dry run.

Finding their way around a new campus, particularly at larger schools, can be an exercise in anxiety. Set aside time before the beginning of the term to go over campus maps, bus routes and schedules, and the location of important buildings like dining halls and the campus medical facility. Having an idea of where things are, what services are available on campus, and what social opportunities are available, like clubs and groups, can be vital to easing your teen's transition.

Social activities like intramural sports, academic clubs, or religious student unions allow freshmen to make new friends while participating in familiar activities.

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